The Multiversity: Thunderworld Adventures 1

multiversity thunderworld 1Today, Mark and Drew are discussing The Multiversity: Thunderworld Adventures 1, originally released December 17th, 2014.
Mark: The Multiversity: Thunderworld Adventures 1 is a story out of time. On Earth-5, Billy Batson and friends exist in a pre-New 52 (and pre-Crisis on Infinite Earths?) continuity. Shazam is the name of a wizard, not the name of our superhero. The Rock of Eternity is attacked and the wizard Shazam taken prisoner by the evil Dr. Sivana. Working in tandem with the Sivanas across the multiverse, Dr. Sivana has mined enough Suspendium to build his own Rock of Eternity and create his own day on the cosmic calendar: Sivanaday, a day where everything goes his way.

To rule the universe, Sivana just has to keep Captain Marvel busy for long enough to destroy the fabric between multiverse realities. As a means to distract Captain Marvel, Sivana turns his own kids into clones of Captain Marvel, Mary Marvel, and Captain Marvel, Jr. and sics them on Billy.

Captain Marvel is a fitting character for this story. Originally published in the 1940’s by Fawcett Comics, Captain Marvel was designed explicitly as a Superman clone/rip-off. Publishers “borrowing” ideas from one another has been happening for as long as comic books have existed (see also: the Justice League versus the Avengers, Suicide Squad versus Thunderbolts, and on and on and on…), but in this instance the courts decided it was blatant enough that Fawcett would have to change Captain Marvel’s powers. When Fawcett started going under, DC licensed (and later in the 1990’s acquired) the rights to Captain Marvel and his ancillary characters. Of course at this point Marvel Comics had their own Captain Marvel to protect, forcing DC to change the title of the comic (and eventually the character) to Shazam!.

Comic book characters are experiencing a renaissance in popular culture as of late. Spurred on by Marvel Film’s box office success, no movie studio in Hollywood wants to be without a complex, inter-connected superhero universe. Ten years ago, could even the most ardent fan imagine a world where Guardians of the Galaxy is America’s biggest movie of the summer? Comic book characters are some of the most valuable assets in Hollywood, and everyone is looking to get theirs.

Fans rooting for Marvel to get the Spider-Man film rights back have had a lot to digest the past few weeks with the on-going email leaks from Sony executives. No matter what one thinks of Sony’s handling of the character, it’s clear that the studio doesn’t really have a plan or vision other than “make it print money.” All they know is that they want to be in the superhero game and that with Spider-Man they’re sitting on a gold mine. My friend Chuck likens it to knowing you have a rich oil deposit on your property, but not knowing how to get it out of the ground.

But even as comic book characters surge in popularity on the screen, circulation of actual comic books continues to decline. Concrete numbers are hard to come by, but it’s not a stretch to say that the highest selling title in any given month is moving less than 200,000 copies. For the entertainment conglomerates that have subsumed DC and Marvel, comic books are basically a loss leader. Films and merchandise based on comic book characters subsidize the creation of new comic books, which in turn generate new material for films and merchandise. The stories mean nothing, the rights to those stories mean everything.

Thunderworld Adventures is pretty explicit with this message. After capturing Shazam and taking control of the Rock of Eternity, Sivana’s robot army mines all of the Suspendium from it and begin to erect your typical office cubicle farm.
Rock of EternityThe Rock of Eternity’s precious resource, the thing that makes it special, is stripped from it and in its place a stereotypical place of commerce rises.
ShazamSivana’s response to Shazam’s objections?
SivanaHow many times do you think someone like Bill Watterson, well known for not licensing his Calvin and Hobbes characters, had to hear a similar speech?

With each successive issue, I enjoy watching The Multiversity fold in on itself. Once again the dangers of comic books, a running theme through this series, surfaces as Sivana gets the idea for his evil scheme from the pages of The Society of Super-Heroes. (It’s also amusing to me that on Earth-5 Batman exists as a comic book character.) And it could be coincidence, but last month saw Morrison riff on Alan Moore’s Watchmen in Pax Americana 1. This month Morrison is again working with a character who has a connection with Moore (and, again, an appropriate one given the story): Miracleman, a thinly veiled rip-off of Captain Marvel originating in the UK.

All in all this is a fun, pulpy issue of The Multiversity. Thunderworld Adventures 1 is framed as a kid’s story, and it has the whiz bang energy of a Golden Age comic book. Every issue of The Multiversity brings a lot to talk about, and I didn’t even have a chance to mention Cameron Stewart’s art or the fact that I’m pretty sure both Master Chief from Halo and Mothra of Godzilla fame make cameos. What did you think, Drew?
Drew: I think the thing that struck me most about this issue is how drastically different it was from Pax Americana. I know that’s to be expected — every issue has been wildly different in tone — but those two issues really illustrate Morrison’s range. More importantly, it demonstrates the range of the Multiverse, a place where intelligence and deep meaning is just as likely as humor and gee-whiz enthusiasm, all of which feels a lot more dynamic than DC’s grim’n’gritty house tone of death and dismemberment. These series was certainly designed to allow Morrison to try on as many hats as possible, but its also allowing DC to try on those hats, and I hope they get the message that this one was a rounding success.

Mark is absolutely right to single out this issue’s energy, but I’d go so far as to say that many of the surface characteristics, from Morrison’s straightforward plotting to Stewart’s clean linework feels directly inspired by Golden Age classics. Of course, beneath those surface elements, this issue has a thoroughly modern heart — one that clearly holds the Golden Age in high esteem, to be sure, but modern, nonetheless. That’s kind of Morrison’s MO, but I’m impressed at how well his artistic team picks up on those beats, delivering an issue that is decidedly modern, but clearly acknowledging — and sometimes subverting — the traditions of the Golden Age.

Of course, it all starts with a splash page.
Splash PageThere’s a lot that feels classic about the splash page, from the declarative narration to the name of the adventure, but there’s also a ton of modern elements, particularly the full bleed and Nathan Fairbairn’s rich color palette. The narrative itself picks up those modern elements as we move to the next page, where we learn that the narrator is actually the wizard Shazam practicing his “omniscient narrator voice.” Moreover, he’s telling it directly to us, launching the issue beyond my causal use of “modern” and into the realm of postmodern.

Actually, one of the most impressive elements of this issue might just be how restrained Morrison is with those postmodern touches. That’s obviously a calling card of this series, but while those elements have taken a central role in other issues, here, they take a back seat to the more straightforward bad guys and monsters adventure. Sure, there’s some mention of the multiversal Savana’s communicating through comics, but the actual story boils down to their greed, vanity, and general untrustworthiness — so, Sivana’s character, basically. That leaves it to the Marvel family to be clever, and they more than rise to the occasion, tricking both Sivana and his daughter into saying their own name to transform them back into their wimpy selves. That would run the risk of feeling redundant in any other comic, but the self-contained nature of this story gives those beats a kind of antecedent-consequent feel.

That self-contained nature is another piece I’d really love DC to find success in. Stewart has become a champion of this in his run on Batgirl, and Multiversity continues to show how much fun can be had in a single issue (and how that fun might be more important to people coming back than another generic cliffhanger). There’s a larger adventure to be had, eventually, but with issues as satisfying as this, it’s hard to imagine wanting one.
For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page. Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore. If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to DC’s website and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?

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